The curious case of stamps: One man's scrap, another man's obsession

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Bengaluru, Jan 15 (PTI) When Bengaluru-based paediatrician Ashish S Mallige ticked off Antarctica from his bucket list, his obsession for the continent took another turn. He became an obsessive collector of philatelic material.

Mallige, who served as a medical officer for the 39th Indian Scientific Expedition between 2019 and 2021, says it all began with the red box called 'Dakshin Gangotri Post Office'. "I was fascinated by it and purchased its first-day cover (FDC) as a souvenir, beginning my philatelic journey," adds Mallige.

Within couple of years, he managed to collect enough material for a five-frame exhibit for the Karnapex 2024, Karnataka Postal Circle's state-wide philatelic exhibition that was held in Bengaluru recently.

"I have nothing rare from Antarctica, but my storytelling got me a silver award. Now, I cannot wait to collect rare philatelic material and participate in national-level competitions," says Mallige.

Although philately is considered a dying hobby, once bitten by the bug, philatelists seem to be more than willing to give their time and money to it. When speaking to them, one often hears that philately is a great stress-buster.

Entrepreneur Sushil Mehra, who has been collecting stamps for 50 years now and has won many awards – which include a gold and large vermeil at Karnapex 2024 for his Bengaluru picture postcards and decimals respectively – says he keeps his collection at his office and spends one to two hours every day organising it. “It is the best thing to do when I want to sort my mind," says Mehra.

Intensive care physician Pradeep Rangappa, whose Red Cross collection won a gold at Karnapex 2024, says philately helps him deal with his highly stressful job.

"What's more, it has given me an understanding of the geo-political dimensions of healthcare policy making. Through stamps it is easy to figure out which disease burden each country is paying attention to – Syria, for instance, has issued many stamps on anti-smoking over the years," says Rangappa.

Philatelist and farmer, 52-year-old Daniel Monteiro from Kumbaragode village in Udupi district, who started collecting stamps when he was in Class 5, says it was his fascination for peacocks that finally helped him find his focus – birds – and win awards at international level.

"My most prized possession is an 1854 stamp, a swan issued by Australia. But my most interesting take away from being a collector is that the peacock may be our national bird, but India has issued far less stamps – about five – than other countries. But I have eight stamps on peacocks from China," says Monteiro. Incidentally, his peacocks fetched him a silver at Karnapex 2024.

Thanks to philately, Mangalore-based Vidya Kishore Baglodi, whose collection of augmented reality (AR)-enabled postcards got a special mention at Karnapex 2024, is a treasure trove of 'did you know…' nuggets. "Did you know that it is possible only to make a one-frame exhibit with popular topics as cricket or Lord Ram? Or that yoga has more stamps issued outside of India?" says Balgodi.

For 50-year-old textile businessman from Udupi, Nagendra Mayak Ammunje, whose extensive collection pertaining to climate change fetches him an award at every competition he participates – at Karnapex 2024, he won a silver for it – these intriguing bits and pieces of information one encounters while researching is one of the biggest draws of philately.

"If I hadn’t started collecting stamps, I would never have found out about the tin can mail system in Tonga (a tiny island near Fiji), for instance. Until the 1940s, people there used to put their mails in sealed tin cans and float them into the sea, as there were no beaches for boats to dock. These were then picked up by passing ships. With philately, general knowledge will certainly grow in leaps and bounds," says Ammunje.

This is partly the reason why retired postal department employee, Bharathi Kumaraswamy says she is encouraging her school going grandson Anirudh Ravinder to pursue philately.

Kumaraswamy says she started collecting in the 1980s, but was not organised about it. It was after her retirement in 2021 that she started to claim her place among serious philatelists. "My first medal came in 2019, when I participated in a postal-employees-only exhibition. I won a bronze. After that I started to organise my collection into themes," says Kumaraswamy.

At the Karnapex 2024, her submission on yoga got a bronze and the Himalayas a large silver.

"The jury now advises me to add more rare material, like the stamp issued by China on BKS Iyengar," says Kumaraswamy. But she finds it difficult to obtain rare stamps, as she sources from family and friends.

Women philatelists especially will tend to hit this wall often, agrees Baglodi. She says she conducts philatelic workshops on behalf of India Post and has often come across women struggling to find rare material. "Men find it comparatively easier, as they have formed a very strong network among themselves and it is not easy for women to break into it," says Baglodi.

Getting the right material is the biggest challenge for philatelists, says Mehra. He says things were a lot simpler when they had only books for research.

"These days plenty of information is available on social media, but it is not always true, and one has to be careful. My thumb rule is 'don't trust online sources, verify them'," says Mehra. PTI JR JR SS